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Commission funds broadband project

Increased broadband in the county was discussed at length during Thursday’s meeting of the Washington County Commission.

Flite Freimann, director of the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services, requested $105,224 from the COVID Relief Fund to move forward with a project that would add infrastructure to put broadband in the homes along Ohio 26.

He said when students were on a hybrid schedule, there were difficulties with “broadband deserts,” which were areas in the county which have no access to Internet service.

More than a month ago, he put before the board a request for proposal to local service providers to present a plan to reach these deserts, he said.

“The Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative came back with a plan to provide service up (Ohio) 26, which provides a myriad of benefits to JFS,” he said.

This will make sure any child that lives on Ohio 26 will be able to get their homework assignments and have interaction with the teacher.

“Oftentimes homework assignments are to be emailed in,” he said. “We would hate to be in a situation where someone was denied the opportunity to be a foster parent or denied the opportunity to be a kinship placement because they lacked Internet at home and that child could not participate in school activities.”

Commissioner Jamie Booth, who has been a longtime proponent of broadband expansion in the county, read a statement regarding the broadband RFP.

“I believe that if Washington County is to be prosperous in the future, all of the county will need to have access to reliable and dependable broadband,” he stated. “The approach that I believe to be effective is a step program with benchmarks. This is a plan that involves a ‘checks and balances’ process.”

He said as organizations are awarded monies, benchmarks for performance and execution should be verified.

“My personal belief is that the time for studies is over,” he said. “The time now is for ‘boots on the ground.’ Therefore I support this RFP, but I am abstaining due to my previous relationship with the cooperative.”

The proposal and request for funding, which were approved Thursday, noted the cost of the three towers would be $83,984, the six repeaters would cost $9,240 and the three-month salary for an engineer would cost $12,000.

“That enables us to put in the infrastructure that is necessary so that individuals who live along (Ohio) 26 can take advantage of this,” Freimann said.

In other commission business:

¯ An amendment to the collective bargaining agreement with Children Services was approved. Freimann said the amendment would allow for a mentoring program for younger case workers.

“We’re adding a designation of team leader to the bargaining unit,” he said.

They would designate more senior individuals as team leaders and then ask them to help with coaching and mentoring, training, quality control and case review. The team leaders, while they hold that designation, would receive an extra 75 cents an hour.

“And provide an award for sharing that experience,” Freimann said.

¯ A resolution from the county auditor to certify revenue of the 911 renewal levy was also approved. This is a renewal levy for the same millage that will be put on the November ballot.

¯ An annual payment in lieu of taxes distribution from Wayne National Forest also went before the board.

“We’re looking at $59,593 coming in, of which 78.95 percent of that goes to Frontier (Local School District), 8.55 percent goes to the county and 12.5 percent goes to the townships,” Commissioner Charlie Schilling said. “That’s how it’s broken down.”

Commission President Kevin Ritter said the forest covers tens of thousands of acres in Washington County.

“We get a mere pittance of money. I would love to see the federal government work with the county to make some of that land developable, whether it’s mineral rights or timbering or something else,” he said.

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